Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Camino Entry 3

Day 3, November 27
24.6km completed


Today has been a lot better. I made a series of adjustments to my right side that have made life wonderful, even if they're stupid adjustments. One of them involved cutting a hole in my sock. Sitting in Ullastrell, I can see the monastery against the side of the mountain.

Expenses, Day 3
Baguette: .80
Dinner: 2.30
Train to Abrera: 1.15
Hotel: 36.00
Total: 40.45
Trip Total: 110.81


Wow. Long day. Where did I leave off?

Right. Ullastrell. Well, Ullastrell was a nice little town on the ridge. I stopped in a little shop to buy our expedition's daily chocolate ration, and the nice lady recognized my shell. Had a half-conversation with her about the camino.

From the middle of town, the yellow arrows dart suddenly to the right. Five minutes later I was clawing my way along the edge of an old olive orchard, heading very sharply downhill. The path became little more than a muddy stream bed (that I followed, doubled over and pushing through the prickle vines) before depositing me at the bottom of a canyon. Looking up, towering cliffs surrounded me on every side. I didn't even know they had cliffs in Catalunya!

The river was very low, leaving the gravel bed mostly exposed. A yellow arrow (on a huge pine signpost, place by some giant) pointed helpfully across the river . . . where another one pointed up a crevice and beyond. I had to head upriver to find a place to cross . . . that part of the trail could use some work, as epic as it is.

The lady in Ullastrell had told me that the nearest habitacion (hotel room) was in Olesa de Montserrat. I arrived in Olesa about 4pm – perfect, as it gets dark around 5 here in November. I start asking around . . . “No hay hoteles aqui.” Nowhere to stay! I think one nice bartender offered me her place, but I wasn't confident enough with my Spanish. Lesson: next time be less afraid and allow people to be generous. She was really worried about me. And I am really bad at telling reassuring lies in Spanish.

The expedition crew devours their chocolate rations for the day.

I was about to push on to Collbato around 5pm, which would have been a terrible idea for several reasons: 1. I had already hiked 30km and it is only day 3 so I am not in shape yet, 2. following the trail in the dark means that I'll get (more) lost, and 3. I have to cross a busy highway in the dark . . . wearing gray clothing. I was wavering between that option and sleeping in the train station (which the cops had just left) when an old guy walking his dog and smoking a cigar noticed my indecision. He told me to take the train to Martorell and stay at the hotel there. He even took me to the station and showed me how to buy the ticket, which I could have done myself. What a nice guy.

I took the train reluctantly. I was hoping to use nothing but my feet for this journey. But it doesn't get me any closer to the mountain and I could use a good rest to preserve my health, so I guess it's okay. Rationalized.

I'm really not equipped to sleep outside. I need a tent and a mat. Some other trip.

The station before Martorell is Abrera. I remembered that my guidebook, although listing no services in Abrera for my route, listed a hostel and a hotel there for a different route to Montserrat. Hearing that the hotel in Martorell was expensive, I hopped off in Abrera hoping to hit the hostel.

After getting some more directions I was on my way to the hostel when an older guy with a ponytail recognized my pilgrim symbol. He asked if I was headed to Montserrat; when I said yes he pulled out his camera to show me a video he took today of the camino to Montserrat, but we only got through the first seven seconds before the battery died. He smelled strongly of alcohol and was carrying mysterious packages, but he seemed friendly and offered to show me the hostel so I followed him.

When he found out I was American, he laughed and wished his camera still worked so that he could take a picture with the American pilgrim. On the way there I think he explained a camino phrase to me that I've heard before: “There is no camino alone; there is only the camino you walk.” Or something like that, it was in rapid, drunk Catalan.

The hostel was closed. He pointed me toward the hotel and bid me “Buen Noche.” I got some more excellent directions, talked the front desk down from 42 to 36 (still too expensive, but the camino has albergues from Montserrat), and am now sitting here at a little writing desk listening to my feet throb. All in all, thirteen hours on the road, ten of them on the camino. 30.3kms, plus the extra while looking for a hotel. Averaging 3km/hour, with breaks. 18 miles today!

Overall morale is much higher today than yesterday, as my feet actually work now. I almost turned around only an hour in today for a rest day, but instead I managed to make some footwear alterations that changed everything. If your feet work, everything else is manageable.

The tremendous pains in my right foot were definitely due to pressure on the tendon right behind the ankle knob on the outside of the foot. This took six hours to appear on day 1, but it has been getting worse and worse with no improvement from rest. The solution is stupid, but it works (after much experimentation). First, my right boot is laced as loose as possible in the bottom laces (just barely keeping the damn thing on) and left totally undone above the catch clasps. Second, the thick outer sock is rolled back on itself until it only covers toe to heel. Finally, the sock liner has a hole cut in it exposing the entire outer ankle and a good portion of the tendon up the leg, leaving the back of the sock intact to rub against the back of the now-floppy boot. Stupid. The downside is that I have no ankle support on that side, but at least I can walk. Gonna be cold when I see snow.

No huge enlightenment yet, except that I love Spain for many of the same reasons that I love home. I love the country, the winding dirt roads, and it feels like a Michigan September or October right now. So beautiful. And even with the mountains, Spain still has that big Michigan sky in a way that West Virginia does not. I don't know how.

I imagined friends beside me for much of the trip today. I was explaining to them all of the things that I've learned so far about hiking, and how when they come with me to do the camino this is one of my favorite legs (except for the lack of lodging in Olesa . . . grr . . .). Mostly, though, we didn't talk, it was just nice to have them around to keep me company. I think I will go home after this. I miss all the people. Time to rebuild some friendships.

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